Golf | 19 Oct 2017 | By Michael Vlismas
Low scoring again highlights golf’s technology debate
Within the space of a week on the European Tour this month, two of the game’s most iconic golf courses saw their course records fall.
During the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, Tommy Fleetwood tamed the traditionally tough Carnoustie with the first 63 in its illustrious history, and then a few days later Ross Fisher shot 61 on the Old Course, and this while coming very close to a 59.
Granted, both courses were played in benign conditions. But add in the 62 – the lowest round in men’s Major championship history – by South Africa’s Branden Grace in the third round of The Open at Royal Birkdale, and then American Justin Thomas starting the year with a 59 in the Sony Open, and Gary Player’s call for limits to be placed on the golf ball become increasingly relevant.
As tournament host, Player always keeps a keen eye on the scoring on the golf course he designed and which has traditionally been able to withstand the advances in golf equipment technology. And as the host of his own annual Gary Player Invitational presented by Coca-Cola, at the Lost City Golf Course, the Black Knight can also see firsthand the effect technology has on another of the courses he has built.
But Sun City Golf Director Ken Payet is not yet ready to start setting up either of these courses just to protect them against the long hitters.
“Any older golf course is vulnerable to technology in the game. But I’m of the opinion that it’s a very small percentage of a field that hits distances to that magnitude, and we can only stretch golf courses to the point where they get utilised. It’s no good building a tee that’s way back but only gets used for one week in a year.
“There are also other ways you can toughen up a golf course. You can narrow the fairways, grow the rough, and place strategic bunkers. And on the Gary Player Country Club, the clover-shaped greens allow us to really tuck the pins in some difficult corners.”
For Payet, Sun City’s two golf courses and the tournaments they host offer two very different golf offerings that he also believes reflects what needs to be a general focus in the game at the moment.
“The Gary Player Country Club is still my number one golf course. You have the tradition of walking the course and the caddies here are so knowledgeable. It’s a true test. It tests the best in the world and your high handicap golfer. It always requires you to be on top of your game.
“Lost City gives us a different golf offering. We use golf carts there. It’s more a desert-style course and target golf, but it can play difficult. It offers us two totally different golf experiences, which is exactly what Gary Player set out to achieve in their design and setup.
“I just feel we need golf courses that are challenging for the best players in the world, but they must be enjoyable for the average golfer as well.
“We shouldn’t change golf courses for a very small percentage of the field that hits it miles. A course mustn’t become too tough and too long. From a Sun City resort point of view, that’s not our focus.”
For Payet, the true test of the enduring strength of a golf course lies in the phone in their golf bookings office.
“During the week of the Nedbank Golf Challenge the phone never stops ringing with golfers booking rounds here. From an experience point of view, I want to blow people away and make sure they go away and tell their friends and family and come back for more.”
Clearly, when it comes to Sun City’s two golf courses, if that phone is ringing, then the balance between them remaining challenging enough for the pros but still enjoyable for the amateurs is still perfect.